Leading and coaching through constructive conflict

In a recent TED presentation, successful British multi business owner, Margaret Hefferman, talked about the need to “think together”. She outlined how leaders,  coaches and teams can do this by daring to confront conflict and create conflict and disagreement as a way of catalyzing positive change.  Ted talks Margaret Heffernan “Dare to Disagree”  which introduces the concept of “disconfirmation” and involves challenging a belief, idea or a theory, as being the “right” one. Leaders, coaches and teams who know how to artfully and skillfully acknowledge and ‘call it’ when something is  unacceptable or ill-formulated, is one of the key practices used towards creating constructive conflict. This is because generative debate is critical to effect both change and innovation. Doing this effectively, by developing ‘discomfort resilience’, also requires the ability to be both bold and candid, making these attributes key to leadership, coaching and team success.

Rocking the boat to create and innovate

One of the key comfort zone points, I developed as a result of spending most of my adult life in Australia, is to “not to rock the boat” or to “make waves” which usually means, like some people, avoiding conflict. Let’s take a moment to consider the whole subject of “debate” and how it gets typically gets played out in here in Australia. In high school, debate tends to be perceived as a “contest’, or a “competition” involving with winners & losers.  Whereby each team represents a point of view and elegantly puts forward their case for or against it,so the team with the most convincing case, according to the judging panel’s point of view, wins! Even Australian governments debate their laws & policies, with each political party taking sides, often resulting in “win/lose” debates & “blame/shame & denial” games. Even the language, “in opposition” supports what is considered to be a very limited “right/wrong” & righteous way of seeing the world, very often confirming & validating less useful, & limiting, existing beliefs, ideas and theories. The consequences of this approach is resistance to change & conventional & rules bound ways of thinking & behaving.

More importantly, because it is not safe to challenge the status quo, or to debate a different point of view, the outcome is a lack of creativity and innovation.

In most organisations I have consulted to, in my 30 plus years of corporate experience, where these types of “right/wrong” perspectives thrive, it has become, culturally and politically incorrect to be challenging or argumentative in case you get judged as being “oppositional”. The ability to differ, which is a great way of maximizing diversity in teams, and conflict are avoided at all costs, where debates have become very polite & tempered conventional & compliant conversations.

As a result, I have noticed that very few people seem to have the energy, confidence & the courage to really debate & challenge the status quo & dis-confirm existing beliefs, ideas and theories & are often punished in some way, for trying to do so!

The problem with this approach is that it eliminates possibilities, breakthroughs & inflection points & inhibits innovation.

Thinking together 

It seems that many of us no longer know know be appropriately assertive and challenging in our communications. This hesitation, political correctness and politeness creates a range of passive and aggressive, frustrated and conventional responses to the questions that get asked. For innovation to occur people need a collaborative process that allows them to “think together” as described by Margaret Hefferman, which involves an active and disagreeable debate process that generates higher level or meta ideas and solutions and not one which seeks to make one party ‘wrong’ and the other ‘right’.

Some of the world’s most successful business people, coaches and entrepreneurs deal with threats, instability and uncertainty, by taking a position of being “in opposition” to the organisation and its identity to deeply resist complacency (and the constant reconfirmation of the status quo).

They courageously stimulate the disruptive thinking required for experimentation and generating of out of the box ideas and elicit unconventional solutions. Ideas get challenged, dismissed, deviated, reinvented, until high levels of meta thinking and inflection points are achieved. This accelerates the creation of the right hand turns required to effect unexpected dramatic change that affects progress, change and innovation.

Finally, generative debating has the power to be intentionally and safely disruptive which creates the mindset shifts & dis-confirmation to generate creative ideas and innovative solutions to problems that may have previously seemed impossible and insolvable.

Taking the first steps

If you would like to get the ball rolling towards creating constructive conflict and include more debate into your business:

Ask more questions, especially open and exploratory ones that don’t minimize and disengage the person you are interacting with:

1. What would happen if……………? Pause and listen for their response. Keep on repeating the question until Meta thinking levels are achieved.

2. Accept very suggestion someone presents, even if you don’t agree by stating “yes……… and….” Pause and listen for their response.

3. When someone makes a suggestion, reply with “I like ……………and what if we………………..” Pause and listen for their response. Repeat first question.

You may be surprised by the possibilities and opportunities that leading and coaching can generate! 

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviors and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at janet@imaginenation.com.au to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.